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Coveney Introduces Measures to Protect Sensitive Habitats in Blacksod Bay

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney T.D. today announced that measures to manage scallop fishing in Blacksod Bay Special Area of Conservation (SAC) had been signed into law. The measures aim to mitigate the risks, of fishing for scallop with dredges, to sensitive habitats within the Bay so as to protect and maintain these habitats. 

Speaking about the Fisheries Natura Declaration for Blacksod Bay in Co. Mayo, the Minister said “Blacksod Bay contains habitats which are particularly sensitive to certain fishing activities and it is important that measures are put in place to manage the scallop fishery in this case. The quality and preservation of our marine environment is vital to the sustainability of our seafood sector and I commend the North West Regional Inshore Fisheries Forum for its work in bringing stakeholders together to address the risks posed by scallop fishing to the Blacksod Bay SAC. Stakeholder involvement is a critical success factor in developing and implementing meaningful fisheries management measures to facilitate fishing in harmony with the protection of sensitive habitats in our bays.”

The Fisheries Natura Declaration gives legal effect to a risk mitigation plan prepared in partnership between the Marine Institute, the North West Regional Inshore Fisheries Forum and representatives of the fishing interests in Blacksod Bay. The measures in the Declaration include defining the footprint of the fishery to a specified zone; restricting fishing for scallops to a season from October to February inclusive and requiring fishing boats to carry GPS monitoring devices while fishing for scallop to demonstrate compliance and to contribute to data for scientific purposes. GPS monitoring devices are being funded, on a limited basis, by the Marine Institute. The Declaration and the mitigation plan will be published on

The Minister re-iterated his commitment to ensuring that Irish seafood is produced in an environmentally-responsible way and stated “I have allocated almost €10 million through the Seafood Development Programme 2014-2020 to support implementation of EU environmental law, to help protect vulnerable habitats and species and ensure that our seafood sector continues to operate and grow in a sustainable manner. This investment will target a range of actions including data collection, scientific research, the use of environmentally-friendly gear and mechanisms to raise awareness of the importance of protecting the marine environment.”    

Notes for Editors

A number of fisheries which involve the use of sea-bed impacting gear, including dredges, are under active regulation through legislation under the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act, 2006 and, in the case of protected Natura 2000 sites, the European Union (Birds and Natural Habitats) (Sea-fisheries) Regulations 2013. These fisheries primarily target bivalve shellfish including mussel seed, razor clams, scallops and cockles.

With regard to protected sea-floor habitats, the Department is continuing to give a high priority to the risk assessment of sea-fisheries in accordance with the Programme of Measures to bring Ireland into compliance with an ECJ judgment on implementation of the Birds Directive. The Department has introduced a number of risk mitigation responses, particularly in the case of bivalve dredge fisheries, in order to fulfil Ireland’s obligations under the Birds and Habitats Directives for protected habitats and species. These include precautionary closures of Natura 2000 sites to activities which require appropriate assessment; regulatory closures of sensitive features within Natura 2000 sites and requirements to report the location and nature of fishing activities, including the use of GPS monitoring devices.

Stakeholder involvement in the process of regulating sea-fisheries is enshrined in both the Common Fisheries Policy and, in the case of Natura 2000 sites, the Aarhus Convention. In order to ensure that adequate opportunity for early and effective participation is provided, the Minister announced the establishment of the National Inshore Fisheries Forum (NIFF) in May 2014. The NIFF delegates comprise the Chair and Vice Chair of six multi-stakeholder Regional Inshore Fisheries Forums (RIFFs) for which membership includes a broad spectrum of marine users, including environmental representatives. To date, the work programme for Natura 2000 sea-fisheries has featured highly on the agenda of the Inshore Forums. Natura 2000 sites such as Blacksod Bay include a variety of habitats and species, each with varying sensitivities and in introducing measures to manage sea-fisheries regard must be had to the specific conservation objectives for each habitat and species within the site. Significant resources have been committed to implementing the work programme, including funding the costs of studies, surveys and GPS monitoring devices and the programme continues to draw heavily on the expertise of the Marine Institute, Bord Iascaigh Mhara and the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority.